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‘Kremlin prot·g·’ and ‘protest candidate’ finish neck and neck in S Ossetian vote

November 14, 2011, 18:12 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The Caucasian republic of South Ossetia, considered by neighbouring Georgia as its territory and as an independent state – by Russia, on Sunday elected its president and voted on the status of the Russian language in a concurrent referendum. Under the South Ossetian constitution, the country’ state language is Ossetia, while Russian enjoys the status of an official language.

While in the case of the language referendum the situation is quite clear (83.99 percent of the voters supported the idea of endowing the Russian language with the status of a second official language), the presidential voting was not that unanimous. Neither of 11 candidates managed to score an overwhelming majority of the vote, and a runoff voting was appointed for November 27. The candidate, who is believed to be supported by Moscow, finished neck and neck with the one considered to be a “protest candidate,” and will have to face her in a runoff vote, while the prot·g· of the incumbent president has lost his chance to win the presidential race.

Based on the results of voting at 95 out of 96 balloting stations, South Ossetia’s Emergencies Minister Anatoly Bibilov, dubbed in the press as a Moscow candidate, who favours South Ossetia’s joining Russia, scored 25.44 percent of votes, while the opposition candidate, former minister of education Alla Dzhioyeva lost a narrow margin, having won 25.37 percent of the vote.

From the very start, Bibilov has been spoken about as a “Kremlin prot·g·.” The opinion kept swelling after Vladimir Putin sent a telegram of greeting to a forum of Bibilov’s supporters. The telegram, however, was signed by Putin as a leader of the United Russia party rather than a prime minister, the Kommersant newspaper notes.

The incumbent president, Eduard Kokoity, who apparently enjoys no support from Moscow because of corruption scandals around the Russian humanitarian aid, did not take part in the race, since it is prohibited by law to keep the post for more than two consecutive terms. Still, he seemed to try to keep the power in his hands. According to the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, under a scenario engineered by Kokoity’s advisors, the incumbent president was to have a completely controllable successor in the presidential office, while staying at the helm of power as a “leader of the nation,” parliament speaker and leader of the ruling party. First steps towards these scenarios have already been made: Kokoity was elected leader of the Unity party, but the Kremlin administration forced him to turn down the idea of nominating his relative, Prosecutor General Khugayev, as a ruling party candidate. The plans to make South Ossetia a parliamentary republic have also failed. To make these plans come true, relevant amendments to the constitution were to be submitted to the parliament.

South Ossetia’s Minister of Information and Communications Georgy Kabisov, supported by two pro-presidential parties, Fair Ossetia and the People’s Party, has also failed to score votes enough to qualify for the runoff elections.

Overconcentration on Bibilov diverted his rivals from another candidate, who came second or third in pre-election ratings, South Ossetia’s former minister of education Alla Dzhioyeva, an opponent of President Kokoity. She was sacked from the post, prosecuted on criminal charges of office abuse and issued a suspended sentence – all because of her criticism of the president, as she put it. Despite the fact that Dzhioyeva is the only woman contender for the presidential post in the entire South Ossetian history, she was supported by numerous men, an unprecedented thing for a Caucasian republic.

Chief coach of the Russian national wrestling team Dzambolat Tedeyev, who was refused registration as a candidate, voiced support to Dzhioyeva, saying she was “the only man among all other candidates.” Her candidature was also supported by former defence minister Anatoly Barankevich, who enjoys high authority in South Ossetia.

“But for Alla Dzhioyeva, the elections would have ended in the first round with Bibilov’s victory – his team is too zealous,” the Kommersant quotes a Dzhioyeva supporter. “But her presence changes everything.”

Bibilov’s election program is based on a key notion of South Ossetia’s unification with its twin Russian region of North Ossetia and thus becoming a Russian territory. His plan entitled “Ossetian Breakthrough. Unity, Order, Development” features basic guidelines for the republic’s development in the next ten years, including tougher anti-corruption measures. Unity also implies unity with Russia. “Russia is our chief ally, only in close partnership with Russia we can hope for success,” he said.

However, Bibilov said, this plan does not mean an immediate unification with Russia. “Unification with North Ossetia is our long cherished dream, and we are not giving it up. But first, we should raise up to the level of North Ossetia and Russia in general,” he stressed presenting his program.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seemed to favour such an option. Meeting with participants in the Seliger-2011 youth forum in early August, he said South Ossetia was welcome to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The future of South Ossetia “will depend entirely on its people,” he then stressed. However, several days later, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said South Ossetia’s joining Russia was out of the agenda. So far, he said, there are no legal or actual conditions to unify the two Ossetias.

Russia recognized South Ossetia as an independent state in August 2008 after a five-day war with Georgia. Eduard Kokoity, who has been South Ossetia’s leader since 2001, had called for his country’s unification with Russia even before the 2008 war.

A referendum in South Ossetia in 2005 demonstrated that the majority of the republic’s population were also eager to join Russia. The bulk of South Ossetian citizen have Russian passports.

In terms of international law, South Ossetia’s status is an open issue. In 2008-2011, was recognized by Russia and four other member countries of the United Nations Organization (Nicaragua, Nauru, Venezuela, and Tuvalu). Meanwhile, in terms of Georgia’s administrative territorial division, South Ossetia’s territory is part of Georgia.

MOSCOW, November 14 (Itar-Tass)